Profile of urinary arsenic metabolites during pregnancy

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Dec;111(16):1888-91. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6254.


Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic (In-As) from drinking water is associated with different health effects, including skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer as well as vascular and possibly reproductive effects. In-As is metabolized through the process of methylation, resulting in the production and excretion of methylated species, mainly monomethylarsenate (MMA) and dimethylarsenate (DMA). Because a large percentage of the dose is excreted in urine, the distribution of urinary In-As, MMA, and DMA is considered a useful indicator of methylation patterns in human populations. Several factors affect these patterns, including sex and exposure level. In this study, we investigated the profile of urinary In-As, MMA, and DMA of pregnant women. Periodic urine samples were collected from early to late pregnancy among 29 pregnant women living in Antofagasta, Chile, who drank tap water containing 40 micro g/L In-As. The total urinary arsenic across four sampling periods increased with increasing weeks of gestation, from an initial mean value of 36.1 to a final value of 54.3 micro g/L. This increase was mainly due to an increase in DMA, resulting in lower percentages of In-As and MMA and a higher percentage of DMA. Our findings indicate that among women exposed to moderate arsenic from drinking water during pregnancy, changes occur in the pattern of urinary arsenic excretion and metabolite distribution. The toxicologic significance of this is not clear, given recent evidence suggesting that intermediate methylated species may be highly toxic. Nevertheless, this study suggests that arsenic metabolism changes throughout the course of pregnancy, which in turn may have toxicologic effects on the developing fetus. Key words: arsenic, arsenic metabolism, arsenic methylation, Chile, pregnancy, urinary arsenic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenic / urine*
  • Chile
  • Creatinine / urine
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Pregnancy / metabolism
  • Pregnancy / urine*
  • Pregnancy Complications / urine
  • Pregnancy Trimesters / urine
  • Smoking / urine
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Creatinine
  • Arsenic